Cucina Italiana Part 1: Spaghetti Aglio Olio e Peperoncino

Literally translated, it means Spaghetti with garlic, olive oil and chilli peppers. Hailing from the Italian town of Abruzzo, this dish is the epitome of Italian culinary perfection. A few ingredients, yet a whole load of flavors. The aroma emanated by this dish, while being cooked, is the perfect preamble to its bursting flavors evidenced in the first bite. Authentic Italian restaurants have many variations of this recipe on their menu, some with meat while others with seafood. But to me, Spaghetti Aglio e Olio, is a dish best served on its own. It is a testament to the greatness of a cuisine that is created from the simplest of ingredients; it is proof that bold flavors are not just achieved by tossing together numerous expensive ingredients, but in fusing simple ingredients that complement each other.

Spaghetti Aglio Olio e Peperoncino

My first professional foray into Italian cooking is credited to the Head Chef of the Four Seasons Mauritius’s Italian restaurant. After being cornered by me at the end of our dinner, he offered to give me a short class the next day. Our class started with this recipe and he said to me that if I could perfect this dish, I would complete the basic training in Italian cooking. I thought to myself, no problem how difficult could one dish be. I was quite taken a back when it took me a couple of tries before getting the flavors absolutely spot on. But still I am quite sure that I have a long way to go. The essence of this recipe lies in using the freshest ingredients and a very good quality olive oil. Using a poor quality oil will render the dish bland. So the best one to use for this dish is first-pressed pure olive oil.

Spaghetti Aglio Olio e Peperoncino

Ingredients:

  • 75g spaghetti
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 5-6 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 6 small red chillies, chopped
  • 1/2 cup parsley, chopped
  • 3/4 cup white wine
  • 2-3 tsp red chilli oil (optional)
  • Rocket leaves (optional)
  • Mushrooms (optional)
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Preparation:

  • Boil the spaghetti in salted water for about 8 minutes till al-dente
  • Drain out the liquid and run the spaghetti through cold water to prevent it from sticking together
  • Drizzle some olive oil over the spaghetti and mix well. Set aside
  • Pour the olive oil into a large saucepan and add the chopped garlic and chillies. Turn on the heat to medium-low (The reason for adding the ingredients before heating the oil is so all the ingredients cooks together rather than one burning before the other browns)
  • Keep stirring so the garlic and chillies do not burn
  • As they begin to change color, turn off the heat
  • Toss in the parsley which helps to cool down the garlic-chilli mixture
  • Wait about five minutes before turning the heat back on
  • Once cooled, switch on the heat and toss in the spaghetti. Give it a good stir so that it is completely coated by the olive oil
  • Season with salt and pepper
  • Pour in the white wine and turn the heat to low. Cover with a lid and simmer for 10 minutes till the liquid is reduced by half
  • For a spicier version, pour some red chilli oil over the spaghetti and give it a final stir before switching off the heat

Spaghetti Aglio Olio e Peperoncino

The aroma that will spread around your kitchen once you open the lid will be magical. Enough for you to start eating from the saucepan rather than waiting to transfer it into a bowl. I added a slight twist to this recipe, which most die hard Italian food epicureans might not consider to be authentic. Instead of topping the dish off with parmesan cheese, I used fresh rocket and mushrooms. The rocket and mushrooms added an earthy and nutty taste to the dish, which gave it a slight kick. But the key ingredient in this recipe is the olive oil, I had to test quite a few oils before settling on the one which gave this dish its pungent flavors. Simple, flavorful and effective, I have now finally set sail on my journey to Italian cooking.

Spaghetti Aglio Olio e Peperoncino

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